Alison Goddard

Our debate draws to a close, and yet there is still so much more to think about. As Douglas Hofstadter suggests, it is a luxury to contemplate the question, What is real? And Elizabeth Grosz argues that reality exists independently of our consideration of it.

The past week’s discussions have taken place online, highlighting the ephemeral nature of human relationships and the ways in which human existence is augmented by the technologies we create. The live chat with Ian Hacking enabled various interactions between curious minds and strengthened the perception that what is real can be affected by new media. One theme we discussed was how shared experiences, such as familiarity with a character described in a novel or music performed by an orchestra—or, indeed, participation in this Forum—can help cement memories that inform our views of reality. We also explored the roles played by truth, belief, knowledge, and evidence.

Philosophers have struggled with the slippery concepts of what is real, and how we can interrogate what is real, for millennia. In the past few centuries they have been joined by mathematicians and physicists who worry about the nature of the world that their equations describe and their experiments suggest. Yet despite intensive efforts by many great thinkers over long periods of time, the nature of reality remains fundamentally mysterious.

Art provides a further prism through which to view the question. The philosophically minded artist Lee Ufan’s exhibition Marking Infinity affords us a rare opportunity to focus on the question of what exists, to reflect on the natural and manmade worlds and the complex relationships between them.

I should like to thank our panelists for their thought-provoking contributions, and all of you who have read and participated in our discussions. I hope you have enjoyed the experience as much as I have.



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